"Active Measures"

Album of Terrorists

Decoy of Duck

CIA at Home, FBI Abroad

Explosion of Names

excerpted from the book

Break-ins, Death Threats
and the FBI

the covert war against the Central America movement

by Ross Gelbspan

South End Press, 1991


In the summer of 1982 the FBI dramatically upped the stakes in its campaign against political activists. In its initial investigation of CISPES for violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, the FBI sought tangible evidence that the group was directly linked to the FMLN. But CISPES was not being paid by the FDR, was not helping provide weapons to the FMLN and was not taking its political direction from any "foreign principal," according to a memo from FBI headquarters to the Justice Department in early 1982.

The following year [1983], however, the Bureau determined that it no longer needed such specific evidence of tangible links between a U.S. group and an international adversary in order to investigate the group. Henceforth, the FBI declared, it would be enough for dissenters inside the United States to publicly espouse positions which conformed to those of, say, the Soviet Union, the Sandinista government of Nicaragua or the Salvadoran FMLN rebels. That, alone, would provide the necessary evidence that the group was, in intelligence parlance, an "active measures front"-and, as such, a legitimate target for an FBI terrorism investigation.

William Casey's Active Measures

... Shortly after [William Casey] assumed the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency in 1981, Casey ordered two internal studies done for him by agency personnel. The Qrst was to develop mechanisms for improving coordination between the CIA, on one hand, and the FBI and other elements of the intelligence community, on the other.

The second internal study involved a CIA report on "Soviet Active Measures"-a broad term that included "soft" covert activities designed to influence the political process in other countries. These so-called "active measures" included activities such as propaganda, disinformation, manipulation of news media, the cultivation of foreign opinion leaders and the use of "front" groups by the Soviets or their political clients to promote Moscow's line on particular issues. Significantly, the early CIA study identified CISPES as one such "active measures front," even while the group was barely becoming an organized political entity. Domestically, the political meaning of the '`active measures" concept- minus the mystifying jargon of intelligence specialists-was enunciated in a hearing of the Denton committee just a month before a presentation in the summer of 1982 by FBI and CIA officials to the House Intelligence Panel.

In a statement which opened the subcommittee's hearings on the FBI's guidelines, Denton noted that: "...In the reordering of priorities and the restructuring of the entities within the Bureau which deal with substantive foreign counter-intelligence and domestic security, an important aspect of the Bureau's work may have fallen through the cracks. . . What seems to be missing. . . is attention to organizations and individuals that cannot be shown to be controlled by a foreign power and which have not yet committed a terrorist or subversive act, but which, nevertheless, may represent a substantial threat to the safety of Americans and, ultimately, to the security of the country. " s J Despite the FBI's own pronouncements that domestic terrorist events had been declining for the previous three years, Denton continued: "At this time of ever increasing terrorist activity, I believe the American people need an organization that has the ability, the desire, and the understanding of the threat to see through propaganda and false ~ colors so that American people can be informed of the threat represented by organizations committed to the destruction of our freedoms. When I speak of a threat, I do not just mean that an organization is, or is about to be, engaged in violent criminal activity. I believe many share the view that the support groups that produce propaganda, disinformation or legal assistance may be even more dangerous than those who actually throw the bombs."

The following month, the House Select Committee on Intelligence heard presentations by both the deputy director of the CIA and the FBI's director of intelligence that prefaced a dramatic relaxation of the restrictions on domestic surveillance-and that would come to justify hostile government action against virtually any group or movement that expressed opinions which wandered too far beyond the accepted guidelines of mainstream political dialogue.

At a two-day session of the House Intelligence Committee in July 1982, CIA deputy director John McMahon and FBI intelligence expert Edward J. O'Malley laid out for Congress the dangers of "Soviet Active Measures."

Although it was O'Malley who laid out the FBI's concerns about Soviet manipulation of domestic political groups through the use of "active measures," his presentation was actually a follow-up on the earlier study by the CIA's Operations Directorate. McMahon explained to the Intelligence Committee the use of "political front groups" as an element of "active measures" campaigns that, in retrospect, would take on enormous significance in the context of domestic surveillance. "With Soviet and Cuban encouragement and participation, Salvadoran leftists in the spring of 1980 established the FDR, the political front that represents the [Salvadoran] insurgency abroad," McMahon testified. "The [governing body of the FDR-FMLN] called for the establishment of solidarity committees. . .to serve as propaganda outlets, conduits for aid, and organizers of solidarity meetings and demonstrations. These committees are sometimes organized as part of a broader 'Nicaragua-El Salvador Solidarity Committee,' or 'Guatemala-El Salvador Committees,' or sometimes simply as 'El Salvador Solidarity Committees,"' he concluded.

The presentation to the Intelligence Committee contained an indication of how central the concept of "active measures" had become in the Reagan Administration. To respond to the "active measures " threat, the government convened a permanent inter-agency task force on countering "active measures" initiatives. The group, which is chaired by the State Department and includes representatives of the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Council and the Defense Department, was still active as of the spring of 1990.

The emergence of an inter-agency effort to counter "Soviet active measures" raises the key question of operational links between the FBI and CIA. It is one of the first indications that the FBI's assault on domestic political groups was part of a larger inter-agency effort that involved numerous other elements of the federal intelligence community. And it explains why the FBI felt justified in employing the same investigative techniques against political dissenters that they used against suspected terrorists.

An Early Target: The Nuclear Freeze Movement

While a range of groups which mobilized around Central America issues became the targets of the most extensive terrorism investigations conducted under the "active measures" designation, it was the overnight mushrooming of the Nuclear Freeze movement that first prompted the Administration's most public denunciation of a political movement as an "active measures" threat. In October 1982, President Reagan himself voiced concern that the Freeze movement was being manipulated by Soviet forces. The rapid growth of the movement-and the sensitivity of the issue of arms control-magnified the Administration's concern about a hidden Soviet hand manipulating the groundswell of opposition to U. S. arms control policies.

By mid-1982, the list of groups and communities endorsing the Nuclear Freeze was formidable. It included 17 state legislatures, 276 city councils, 450 town meetings and 56 county councils. Nearly three million citizens signed Freeze petitions. And, in addition to a large number of mainstream religious groups, including 140 Roman Catholic bishops, labor and civic organizations, the Freeze's supporters included the former Director of the CIA William Colby, former Defense Secretary Clark Clifford and Gen. James Gavin. Nevertheless, the Freeze movement-which was one of the largest and fastest spreading grassroots movement of the 1980s-acted as a lightning rod for the most conservative elements in the government.

Just a few days before Reagan's remarks, for instance, Senator Jeremiah Denton, head of the Security and Terrorism Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, charged that the wife of Sen. Dale Bumpers (D-Wyo.) chaired a group called Peace Links which was subversive in nature and which "lends itself to exploitation by the Soviet Union." Denton charged that at least four groups represented on the Peace Links board "are either Soviet-controlled or openly sympathetic with, and advocates for, communist foreign policy objectives." To support his allegations, Denton put into the record nearly 50 pages of right-wing extremist literature which purported to show direct links between the Soviet KGB and the Nuclear Freeze movement. Similar material, virtually all of it lacking any credible substantiation, flooded out from Readers Digest, Human Events magazine, the National Review and other politically conservative organs. One such group charged that at least 13 Freeze sponsors-from SANE, to the American Friends Service Committee to Friends of the Earth and Physicians for Social Responsibility-"have all been identified as communist front organizations." The source of that information was a group called the Young Americas Foundation-whose material on CISPES would subsequently turn up in the files of the FBI."

That climate of red-baiting, provoked by the sudden mass popularity of the Freeze movement, provided an encouraging environment for the FBI. The Freeze movement peaked in 1982 when ABC-TV broadcast a terrifyingly realistic fictional account of the outbreak of a nuclear war between the two superpowers. The week the film was to be aired, a group of the nation's most prominent scientists took out a full page ad in the New York Times urging the public to support the Freeze movement. The ad bore an address with a post office box for members of the public to send donations and letters of support. At the direction of headquarters, FBI agents put a mail cover on the post office box and entered the names of everyone who responded to the ad in the Bureau's terrorism files.'

A Private Use of Active Measures

The zeal with which the "active measures" theme was picked up by private right-wing activists was reflected the following spring in a speech by John Rees to the Conservative Caucus.

In his presentation, Rees first made the audience aware of his very close relationship to the Bureau's counter-intelligence division. "The title of the talk I prepared for this morning was Soviet Activities in the U. S.... In the case of classical espionage, which the FBI is supposed to monitor, I noted that one of the KGB spies deported from France this week has the same name as the third counselor at the Soviet Embassy on 16th street [in Washington]. When I called the FBI to see if there was a relationship- whether they were brothers or came from the same family-experts in counterespionage at the FBI had not yet made that connection..."

Rees then laid out the nature of "active measures." Getting down to specific cases, he cited the campaign in Congress against the Administration's policies in El Salvador. "When the [human rights] certification program of the President is put into effect in Congress, first of all, and absolutely by coincidence and with no coordination, the terrorists in El Salvador step up their campaign-and take measures like blowing up generating stations, etcetera, that achieve national publicity in the United States thanks to the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. This is all designed to show that the legitimate needs of the Salvadoran people are better met by the communist terrorists than by anyone else."

"Then various congressmen-usually in the case of El Salvador led by Tom Harkin and Ed Markey-will unleash a series of lies based on forgeries provided to them by the Cuban DGI [the Cuban intelligence service]. These will then become issues and there will be street protests, attempts to blockade the State Department... The overall effect is to discredit whatever intelligent policies we try to develop in Central America. And at no time do you see this program being initiated unless you see as an initiator a member or former member of CPUSA [U.S. Communist Party] or one of the front groups, like the National Lawyers Guild, that is organizing, funding and taking care of logistical activities. That is a prime indicator that it is an 'active measures' campaign."

For Rees-as for the FBI and for Bill Casey-the involvement of a left-wing group in a protest against Administration policies provides sufficient proof that the protest is a Soviet-manipulated effort designed to injure or embarrass the United States government.

An Album of Terrorists, An Underground of Spies

... The idea was to compile a book of entries on known and suspected terrorists-or people who were providing support to known terrorists- that would provide basic identification data, photographs and a summary of the Bureau's investigative interest in the individual.

Fingering Congressional Terrorists

In one segment of the album, the FBI managed to squeeze the names of seven terrorist "supporters" into one entry-that of Rep. Patricia Schroeder who for a short time considered mounting a run for the presidency in the 1988 election. According to the FBI album: "She is openly working on behalf of the Sandinista Government in the U.S. through the Nicaraguan Network (NNSNP) and CISPES. Schroeder is actively raising money for the Sandinistas. Schroeder is involved in operation HAND (Humanitarian Aid for Nicaraguan Democracy). She has ties with other pro-Sandinista members of Congress: Tip O'Neill, Christopher Dodd, Michael Barnes, Ed Boland, Edward Kennedy, Ron Dellums. WARNING. She could be the target of right wing groups. Strong resentment in right wing circles in the U.S. and El Salvador against her. Advise if she travels abroad."

... the entry on Schroeder and the other members of Congress were not included in the final edition of the album which was subsequently retained in FBI Headquarters.

The Miami Network

At the time Varelli was compiling Terrorist Photo Album entries for the FBI, he was also facilitating the Bureau's exchange of information with a group of private operatives established by a handful of Salvadoran expatriate businessmen in Miami. The initiative, about which Varelli had been briefed during his visit to the home of Professor Peccorini in San Salvador in 1981, involved the establishment of a propaganda and intelligence-gathering operation in the United States. It followed the formation, in the late 1970s, of several new death squads in El Salvador.

The squads in El Salvador presented themselves initially as neighborhood defense patrol groups whose mission was to protect the population from attacks by rebel guerrillas. They were composed of from 15 to 20 people, including off-duty military and police personnel working in conjunction with private anti-communist activists. Many of the private death squad patrons provided equipment or logistical support-trucks, jeeps, nightscopes, for example-as well as physical support. One squad might include four military officers plus bodyguards and another ten to twelve civilians. They worked in small groups of five to ten people, intimidating, threatening or assassinating people they saw as a threat to the stability of the country.

Frustrated by the reluctance of the junta to turn the country's full military power against the guerrillas, the death squads soon escalated their activities from community defense to a full-blown battle against known and suspected leftists. In the couple of years after the 1979 installation of the junta, the death squads were, by many accounts, fairly tightly focused on known political enemies and their supporters. But as time passed, the squads began to widen their sights, attacking households and villages throughout the country and killing not only confirmed political and paramilitary operatives but their relatives, neighbors and children-as well as personal enemies of death squad members.

The most highly visible Salvadoran identified with the death squads has been Roberto D'Aubuisson-an official in El Salvador's executive security force, Ansesal, until it was disbanded in 1979. D'Aubuisson also coordinated the operations of Orden-a vigilante organization of rural farmers designed to promote Salvadoran-style democracy and to set up system of surveillance to monitor the activities of the Salvadoran left. In late 1980, both Ansesal and Orden were disbanded, casualties of the newly-installed junta's attempts to bring the most virulent of the nation's security forces under the control of the government. The shift, however, served to stimulate the growth of a more privatized network of death squads, many of which were said to be under the direction of D'Aubuisson and Col. Nicolas Carranza, head of the Treasury Police.

The public-private death squads saw their mission as protecting the country from the communist guerrillas as well as El Salvador's more moderate leftist elements, including the Christian Democrat Party. Between 1979 and 1982, for instance, right-wing death squads are said to have assassinated more than 260 members of that party, including 35 mayors.

It was around the end of 1981 that the private Salvadoran intelligence-gathering apparatus was established in the United States. Based in Miami and operating through a network of Salvadoran activists-including a number of former National Guard and death squad members- the operation utilized a Wang computer in Houston to store and collate information gathered in cities where CISPES was active and where there was a significant Salvadoran population.

To their Miami-based Salvadoran organizers, the new North American operation seemed the most natural way to combat what they viewed as the move of the Salvadoran communists to bring the war in El Salvador into the United States under cover of CISPES and other sympathetic organizations.

When former members of the Salvadoran military or security forces turned up in cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Miami or Washington, D.C., they would be put in touch with the organizers in Miami who would welcome them into the network.

As the bands of Salvadoran activists grew to between 50 and 100 people in those southern and western cities which harbored large Salvadoran populations, they began to gather as much information as they could on CISPES and other groups sympathetic to the Salvadoran rebels. Working in small cell-like groups of three or four members of the secret network would spy on liberal groups, monitor rallies, speeches and other political events and, according to some reports, terrorize members of CISPES in an effort to stop their propagandizing on behalf of the FMLN rebels.

The operation funneled material to the FBI-at first to the Dallas office, but, according to Varelli, the Miami-based Salvadorans subsequently dealt directly with the FBI's Miami office. The operation was so extensive and so successful, that Varelli was amazed to learn, when he traveled to Miami in 1985, that the Salvadorans knew as much, if not more, about domestic Central America groups as did the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The Decoy or the Duck

Michael Ratner, Margaret Ratner, Chip Berlet and Dr. Ann Mari Buitrago saw it coming from the beginning. The only problem was that for the longest time they couldn't tell which direction it was coming from.

The Ratners worked at the Center for Constitutional Rights, a public interest group of liberal and left-wing lawyers based in lower Manhattan. For them, as well as for Berlet, a political researcher who had been involved in cases involving the FBI and the Chicago Red Squad, and Buitrago, one of the country's foremost experts in the use of the Freedom of Information Act, the election of Ronald Reagan began to raise alarms as early as the winter of 1980. They were concerned not only about the candidate's rhetoric but about the composition of his transition team and the Heritage Foundation recommendations for strengthening the nation's domestic intelligence apparatus.

In general, however, those early signs were dismissed, if not ignored, as left-wing paranoia. The leadership of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union, for instance, declared that civil liberties and government surveillance would not be significant issues in the 1980s. Instead, it argued, the emphasis of the Reagan Administration would be almost exclusively economic-and the battles of the coming years would involve issues of economic justice and the rights of the poor rather than issues of free speech and civil liberties. In fact, Morton Halperin, of the ACLU, accused attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights of raising a specter of alarmism without giving the administration an opportunity to prove that it was not bent on subverting the intelligence and law enforcement communities to do its political bidding.

But while the Ratners, Berlet and Buitrago were concerned about what they saw as the coming crackdown on political freedom, it was not the FBI that first caught their attention, but a new Senate committee-the Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism (SST - which was created by the incoming Republican majority in Congress to focus public attention on the threat of international terrorism and the peril of domestic subversion.

Created as a subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the SST was staffed by Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and John East of North Carolina, and headed by Alabama Senator Jeremiah Denton, a member of the Moral Majority who spent seven years as a prisoner of war in a Vietnamese prison camp. Along with Senator Jesse Helms, East, Hatch and Denton believed that the greatest threat to the United States was the danger of "creeping communism." And, to that end, the committee set j out to expose the danger of internal subversion.


The Terrorism Cover

In his opening address at the first meeting of the subcommittee in 1981, Denton declared: "The subcommittee plans to investigate certain organizations which, within the United States, engage in, or have engaged in acts of terrorism, including bombings, acts of sabotage, aircraft hijacking, armed assaults and homicides."'

But the political implications of Denton's proclamation came clear in short order when staffers in Hatch's office leaked the fact that the SST planned to investigate, among others, three left-liberal institutions that had never been associated with terrorism or violence of any sort. According to those early leaks, the SST would take on the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a left-liberal think tank in Washington which provided substantial input to Congressional deliberations on a range of domestic and foreign policies; the North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA), a left-wing research institute in New York which conducted a number of studies critical of U.S. economic and diplomatic policies in Latin America; and Mother Jones, a left-liberal magazine which featured investigative reports on corporate excesses, environmental abuse and social injustices.

In the spring of 1981, concerned by the emergence of SST, Margaret Ratner drafted a letter of opposition to the subcommittee which read:

"In the 1950s, the country was convulsed by a series of political acts which made a mockery of the concept of democracy. Hundreds and thousands of people saw their lives and livelihoods destroyed as the House Un-American Activities Committee and the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee engaged in their nightmarish witchhunts for dissidents...These committees were determined to ruin all who opposed their interpretation of 'Americanism'. .. History has since repudiated that tragic period...[Today, however] we are alarmed by the establishment of the new Subcommittee on Security and Terrorism. This new subcommittee has wrapped itself in a thoroughly vague mandate: it will investigate 'terrorist activities' and matters relating to 'national security.' Yet, who is to define those terms? Is opposition to the committee itself a 'threat to national security? 'Will those who maintain their constitutional rights of free speech and assembly be deprived of their human rights as they were at other times in this nation's history? Committee member John East has remarked that 'the biggest threat to civil liberties today is terrorism.' But we assert that the committee, itself, poses the biggest threat to our civil liberties."

Noting that such committees have traditionally operated more by holding public hearings and generating publicity for their causes than through actual legislative initiatives, Ratner accused the Administration of planning to use the SST to "rally support for the concept of a terrorist threat and to act as a propaganda machine to generate fear." The public success of the committee would subsequently be used, she wrote: "to allow us to support regimes such as the one in El Salvador; to grant the FBI and the CIA the extra support required if they are to carry out more illegal and repressive operations... to control dissent...and, finally, to curtail civil liberties."

At the same time that the attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights were warning activists about the new Denton committee, Berlet, who had worked with the National Lawyers Guild and who had written extensively on the FBI abuses of the 1960s, was becoming increasingly concerned at what he saw as a new climate of red-baiting not only of political groups but also of left-wing and liberal journalists.

In an article in Alternative Media, Berlet noted that the SST and other elements close to the Reagan White House were taking aim at such outlets as Pacifica Radio, CovertAction Information Bulletin and Mother Jones. "Charges that the media is part of the Soviet plan for world conquest have escaped the confines of conservative living rooms and are now ringing in the halls of Congress...Publications on the Right are calling for investigations into how alternative media groups are part of a KGB disinformation campaign," Berlet wrote, noting that the Heritage report identified even mainstream journalists "who may engage in subversive activities without being fully aware of the extent, purposes or control of their activities."

No More Witch Hunts

In June 1981, Berlet, the Ratners and other activists organized simultaneous conferences around the theme of "No More Witch Hunts" in 19 cities, including Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis and Washington. In New York "No More Witch Hunts" took the form of a street fair on West 8th Street, in which participants were exposed to a frightening array of surveillance technology-high-tech bugging devices, infra-red night-vision telescopes, and wigs, fake mustaches and make-up kits used by undercover infiltrators.

In Chicago, the conference attracted more than 1,000 people and featured an address by Mayor Harold Washington. The event was endorsed by nearly 90 organizations-including the Illinois branch of the ACLU, the American Friends Service Committee, the Gray Panthers, the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Chicago, the Mobilization for Survival, the United Auto Workers and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. Whether by coincidence or design, the names of the majority of those sponsoring organizations were discovered, seven years later, to have been entered into the FBI's terrorism files in the course of the Bureau's investigation of CISPES and the octopus-like spread of the Bureau's probe into a vast array of domestic groups dedicated to reducing the risks of nuclear war, to protecting the environment, to advocating for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised, and to criticizing the policies of the Reagan Administration in Latin and Central America.

Privatized Intelligence Salvadoran Style

A super-secret, paramilitary group, the Tecos, who date their organization from 1910, were revived after World War II by a Mexican Nazi who spent the war in Germany and an Argentine Jesuit priest who was an admirer of Hitler. By the early 1970s, the Tecos, supported by a network of anti-communist activists throughout Central and Latin America, formed the Mexican Anti-Communist Federation, with links to death squads in Guatemala, Argentina and Paraguay. In 1972, the Tecos spearheaded the formation of the Latin American Anti-Communist Federation, the Latin American chapter of the World Anti-Communist League. The group was heavily involved in the formulation of the "Banzer Plan" in 1976. The "Banzer Plan," aimed at identifying and destroying networks of left-wing clergy who were promulgating 'Liberation Theology' in Latin America, called for a shared database, involving the security forces of ten Central and Latin American countries, to "maintain up-to-date information about the ideological orientation of the main religious institutions, as well as to elaborate a file containing the names of priests and nuns along with their personal background, to be annually revised." Within two years after the operation of the database, at least twenty-eight bishops, priests and lay workers were killed in Latin America, allegedly by right-wing death squads destroying networks of left-wing clergy who were promulgating 'Liberation Theology' in Latin America, called for a shared database, involving the security forces of ten Central and Latin American countries, to "maintain up-to-date information about the ideological orientation of the main religious institutions, as well as to elaborate a file containing the names of priests and nuns along with their personal background, to be annually revised." Within two years after the operation of the database, at least twenty-eight bishops, priests and lay workers were killed in Latin America, allegedly by right-wing death squads.


Storm Flags

It was shortly thereafter that Berlet began to organize a series of public conferences on the threat of FBI and governmental harassment.

Asked why he and other movement people did not suspect the FBI earlier than 1984, Berlet explained: "Because you are so acutely aware of the propensity to become paranoid, you bend over backwards to be skeptical and un-paranoid." Berlet, who initially set out to work as a higher education policy analyst, explained he was attracted to movement work because "I get passionately upset when I see that the Constitution and Bill of Rights is not enforced. It's just not a fair fight. For doing this, I have seen countless people hurt, jailed, even killed. What you're up against when you take on the FBI, the CIA, the undercover informants who feed the governmental apparatus, is a self-selected group of people who have a messianic vision of themselves. It keeps rising up over and over again. Trying to protect civil liberties is like Sisyphus. It is an unceasing battle. All governments want more power. It makes them more efficient. But democracy, on the other hand, implies inefficiency. So there's always the need to fight back. The battle over domestic civil liberties will never be won. It just has to keep being fought."

For Dr. Ann Mari Buitrago, a longtime movement activist and one of the country's pre-eminent experts in understanding and deciphering FBI files, the secret of the CISPES investigation was foreshadowed by the Reagan Administration's efforts to gut the Freedom of Information Act. As a graduate student, Buitrago had gotten involved with progressive causes during the Rosenberg trials. In the late 1970s, when the FBI released thousands of pages of Rosenberg files on the case, Buitrago found herself fascinated by the challenge of trying to piece those files into a whole picture. That fascination led her to establish, in 1979, an organization called FOLA, Inc., which was devoted to helping scholars, historians, researchers and plain citizens use the Freedom of Information Act.

"In early Reagan years, the Freedom of Information Act came under sustained attack by the Justice Department, the Office of Management and Budget, and all sorts of executive agencies. As the attacks on the Freedom of Information law mounted, we worked with Congressional committees to keep the law alive. That was our main battle during the early period. That's where FOLA, Inc. was most active."

Buitrago, who in 1988 and 1989 would quarterback the effort to secure release of field office documents and work with Central America groups in various cities to decipher what she could of the FBI's operations against those groups, has long seen the Freedom of Information Act as a barometer of the overall activities of an administration.

"The Freedom of Information Act is a wonderful tell-tale. If you see an administration that sets out to attack it, gut it, get rid of that act, that means it is intending to do something it thinks the public will not approve of. It is setting out with something to hide, and repression will follow. You don't have to know what precisely they're up to. If you just watch what they do to freedom of information, you can figure out where to start looking.


The CIA At Home, the FBI Abroad

Around the same time that the FBI dramatically intensified its ~ crackdown on Central America groups, a separate cluster of government l agencies was establishing a clandestine operation aimed at secretly pumping the Administration's own brand of propaganda into the consciousness of the American electorate through a covert campaign aimed at securing newspaper space and television and radio time for advocates of Reagan policies in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The architect of this second line of information control was none other than William Casey, director of the Central Intelligence Agency. Toward the end of 1982, Casey made it clear that the Administration was not doing what it should to win the battle of public opinion and convince the mass of voters to support the Reagan Administration's military intervention in El Salvador and, more importantly, its increasing isolation of the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua and its concurrent mobilization of the contras.

As a result, Casey established an operation designed to control the flow of information on which the voting public would base its attitudes toward Central America policies. The second front of the assault on the U.S. public involved pumping pro-Administration propaganda into the public consciousness via the press, the television networks, and the nation's libraries, to win the "hearts and minds" of the voters for a set of policies which had hitherto been rejected by a substantial portion of voters and their representatives in Congress.'

Although the Administration's viewpoint-including much of the real and fabricated intelligence that it used to justify its Central America policies-was made public through a network of conservative publications as well as through a regular program of White House briefings for conservative supporters, Casey feared that the Administration was basically "preaching to the converted." What was needed, he felt, was a new and separate apparatus which would better explain the rationale for U.S. activities in Central America to the public. To accomplish the mission, Casey tapped Walter Raymond, Jr., a long-time propaganda specialist with the CIA. But there was one problem. The CIA is forbidden by law from conducting operations inside the United States. For Casey or his employees at the Agency to run a covert domestic propaganda campaign would be to invite the harshest kind of Congressional retribution should the operation ever be discovered. The problem was difficult-but not insurmountable.

An Explosion of Names

At 10:59 on the night of November 7, 1983, a tiny wristwatch timer hidden in a crevice of a second-floor window of the United States Senate ticked off the last 60 seconds of its functional life.

A minute later, a clap of thunder echoed out across Capitol Hill. The explosion splintered the doors to the Senate Chamber, some 30 feet away. A hole fifteen feet high and several feet wide appeared in the wall of the ornate, ceremonial Mansfield Room. Debris and plaster dust filled the nearby Republican cloakroom. A rare 1815 Grandfather clock lay in pieces. Portraits of Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John C. Calhoun were reduced to strips of torn canvas.

The bombing of the Capitol-climaxing, as it did, a chain of similar, unsolved attacks over the previous year and a half-provided the Bureau with an extraordinary opportunity.

On one level, a break in the bombings would go far to restoring the FBI's image as an effective and dependable guardian of the nation's domestic security.

More significantly, the bombing of the Capitol sounded a starter's gun for the FBI to dramatically expand and intensify its next round of intelligence gathering activities on virtually every liberal and left-wing political group in the country.

While the FBI's public information office had portrayed the bombings as relatively insignificant events perpetrated by small, isolated groups of radicals, the more zealous agents in the counter-terrorism unit believed that assessment was designed to serve the political needs of FBI director William Webster. Webster had declared three years earlier that the FBI had "broken the backs," of such revolutionary groups as the Weather Underground and the Puerto Rican FALN. But to many agents in the foreign counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism units, Webster was seen as the ultimate bureaucrat, the kind of man who would go along to get along. In Ronald Reagan's America, it was not good form to indicate that there was substantial discontent within American society. An admission of a domestic terrorist threat would focus attention on discontent.

But agents like Davenport and Flanagan knew that there was discontent. The evidence lay in the dramatic growth and spread of groups like CISPES which were bitterly critical of U.S. foreign policy. And they knew that the best way to neutralize those groups and silence their expressions of discontent would be to connect them to the string of bombings that had been reported in the press as relatively insignificant events committed by a small splinter group of isolated revolutionaries. Any concrete link between the bombers and the network of highly visible Central America political groups would completely vindicate all the FBI's investigations of groups opposed to Reagan Administration policies in Central America. Such a connection would prove that groups like CISPES, the Inter-Religious Task Force, the Nicaraguan Network and the Central America Solidarity Association were all part of a larger terror network, with links to international terrorists.

Such a break could lead at least to a federal conspiracy indictment, with all its attendant publicity. Even more important in the minds of the more zealous agents, it would, once and for all, generate the public revulsion needed to put a stop to the propaganda and disinformation these "active measures" organizations were using to pollute the public discussion of U.S. policies in Central America.

But it was obvious that any investigation aimed at linking highly visible political groups to an international terrorist network would involve extensive domestic intelligence gathering. And that was something with which Webster did not want to be associated. With his blessing, Oliver Revell, at the time the head of the FBI's criminal investigative division, took on the job of overseeing the Bureau's counter-terrorism apparatus. It was a way for Webster to be assured the job was being handled-but without any of his fingerprints, lest the campaign of domestic surveillance be discovered down the line. It was the kind of plausible deniability that enabled Revell to tell a Senate committee in 1988 that Webster did not authorize the CISPES investigation, nor was he informed about developments in the probe-although it lasted at least five years and involved every FBI field office in the United States.

Operating ostensibly behind the back of Director Webster, the FBI stepped up its intelligence gathering activities to a feverish pitch following the bombing of the Capitol. "The Bureau used the bombing as a pretext to gather every possible bit of intelligence on every group they had identified. It was an opportunity to rebuild and reconstruct legally the FBI files on domestic activists that had been ordered deactivated by the Church Committee," Varelli recalled later. "The Bureau exploited the bombing like hell. It triggered a nationwide intelligence gathering mobilization. It was used to the maximum."

Officially the FBI indicated it was most concerned about the emergence of a secret, armed terrorist group which included members from various organizations but which was traceable through none. The fear the FBI expressed in classified briefings to overseers in Congress was that CISPES and a host of other groups, many reincarnations of groups born in the 1960s, were all part of a terrorist infrastructure which drew support and direction from the Cuban intelligence agency as well as the KGB and the International Department of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party.

If members of that hidden network could bomb the Capitol with impunity, what did that mean for the upcoming Republican National Convention in Dallas or the summer Olympics in Los Angeles? The FBI asserted that the spate of bombings could be the signal for a full-blown terrorist offensive in the United States. Whatever damage the bombings might inflict on innocent individuals and private property, moreover, would be dwarfed by the psychological victory of demonstrating to the world the weakness and vulnerability of the nation's law enforcement agencies.

Privately, however, FBI's intelligence contained precious little information to suggest that a coordinated network was actually planning a nationwide campaign of armed violence. And even if such a network of the most hard core groups-those with histories of violent activities -had such plans, it had virtually no public support. The country was in no imminent danger of a mass uprising led by an advance guard of the revolution.

More to the point was the fact that FBI officials had determined the identities of the suspected bombers even before the next round of political intelligence-gathering, under the cover of a terrorism investigation, was underway.

Within days of the bombing, Headquarters officials advised the various field offices that the bombing was the work of a splinter group that the FBI suspected was connected to the small May 19th Communist Organization. The near-instant identification of the suspects came from evidence which had been gathered from the string of bombings over the previous year in New York, where bombs had damaged the Bankers Trust Building, the offices of IBM, the South African airline office. and police and court buildings in New York City-and in Washington, where bombs had exploded at Fort McNair and the Washington Navy Yard.

In the case of virtually every bombing, callers claiming responsibility indicated that they acted on behalf of either the Puerto Rican FALN, the PLO, the Salvadoran FMLN or two hitherto unknown groups, the Armed Resistance Unit or the United Freedom Front. But from forensic evidence and discoveries of explosives and plans, the FBI learned that the bombers were part of the Armed Resistance Unit, a tiny offshoot of the May 19th Communist Organization-with no known connections to the FMLN or any of the domestic Central America groups.

Nevertheless, despite the Bureau's almost immediate identification of the bombing suspects, the FBI used the occasion for a massive intensification of the probe of hundreds of left-wing and liberal groups.

Break-ins, Death Threats and the FBI

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